2017‎ > ‎

Two Weddings, I

28 January 2017

If you’d like to know what Moshé and Laura, and Jéssica and Rigoberto, have in common, it is that within the last month both couples have invited us to their weddings. So though you might expect us to be experts now in Mexican wedding protocols, these two weddings were very different, despite their several elements in common. The biggest difference is that Moshé is part of the Etz Hayyim Jewish community in Pueblo Nuevo, although his bride is not, and Jéssica and Rigoberto could not be more Catholic.

None of the four in-law families is wealthy. Rigoberto’s dad, Lauro, works for us and several other people as a gardener. They live maybe three hundred meters up Calle Independencia from us in a small blue house next to a well-treed small yard, and an unfinished second story with a few hopeful re-bars jutting up from the roof.  His mom runs the household, taking care of Lauro, their now unmarried daughter and her seven year old, and their parrot. They cook over firewood that Lauro gleans from our yard’s trimmings, as well as his other patrones, and what he cuts on the mountain on Sunday afternoons. They are very religious. The whole family made the pilgrimage to Juquila this December, Lauro running his legs of the relay over the 160-kilometer route, torch in hand, in the annu

al pilgrimage sponsored by the Catholic Antorchista movement. Lauro’s wife sticks pretty close to home. In the 2 years he has worked for us two days each week, we have several times invited him to bring her up to the house so she can marvel, with us, at the way he has sculpted the grounds and encouraged the trees and flowers. But it hasn’t happened yet.


Jéssica’s mom has a business, selling something—Lauro isn’t quite sure what—at weekly markets around the valley. Her dad works at a sawmill. The two kids, Jéssica and Rigoberto, have been living together with her family for the past three years, and she is now pregnant, which probably triggered their deciding to Church their union. Jéssica’s family seems to be better off than Rigoberto’s. Rigoberto’s folks came to the wedding dressed “formal de pueblo:” Lauro in dark workpants that weren’t jeans, a plain, dark, long-sleeve shirt, and Sunday shoes, scuffed but clean. His mom wore a nice, but not elegant print dress, little jewelry, and maryjanes. Jéssica’s mother sported an elegant embroidered huipil, the dressup uniform for upper-class (and Gringo) women, and high heels. Her d

ad was in a dark suit, white shirt, tie, and shined black leather shoes.


Lauro delivered the wedding invitation to us a month ago: it was a water glass, filled with marshmallows, on which (the glass, not the marshmallows) had been printed the relevant details: the couple’s first names, the time and place of the wedding and reception, and the full names of the Padrinos de Velación. This is the term for the married, stable Catholic couple who promise to act as role models for the newlyweds and to advise and support them in their marriage. Their signature on the Church’s marriage document certifies that this is a legal union. They may also help finance the wedding.


At one o’clock on the wedding day, the appointed time, we all gathered in front of Santa Cruz’s tiny chapel, between the Agencia building, with its three rooms consigned to town government, and the elementary school. The band, ten teenagers wearing

blue uniform shirts with the letters PSP (Puro San Pablo) who played mostly drums and horns, banged out the three songs that local bands always play (and did it much more tunefully than most of the other bands in the neighborhood). The bride, in white, veiled, and with a long train held up off the pavement by two six-year-olds, the groom uncomfortable in suit and tie, obviously rented for the purpose, waited nervously with Jéssica’s parents. Linda and I milled about, greeting those villagers whom Qalba and I see every morning. I think of them as the madrugadores, the first-light people; if there are people who sleep late in Santa Cruz, I’ve probably never met them. About a half hour into the milling and greeting I asked don José Jiménez Jiménez, who was town treasurer two years ago and whose traditional fiesta job is set off the fireworks, as he was doing at 5-minute intervals, the reason for the delay.


“Waiting for the priest,” accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders, as if that were so completely expected why had I bothered to ask.

As in much of the Catholic world, there is a shortage of priests around here. Most have multiple parishes and ride circuit. It turns out there were three weddings that day just in San Pablo/Santa Cruz, which are only two of the many villages the priest services.

Finally he showed up, sneezing and coughing and pulling tissues out of his sleeve. He slipped into his chasuble, stood in the church door, gave the signal to begin, and in marched the wedding family (Jessica’s), the train-bearers, and the rest of us. We quickly filled the seven rows of pews on each side of the central aisle, seats in normal circumstances sufficient for 50-60 people. But this was a wedding, so about 80 folks jammed themselves together on the wooden benches, purses on the floor, babies on laps, toddlers toddling underfoot. Another forty or so people stood in back. I think Linda and I were unique in congregation in not being related to either the bride or the groom, or more likely both. Also as gringos. Also as me being the tallest person in the church.

It was hot, and the fresh flowers, piled onto every feasible surface, gave off a gentle perfume. The service was similarly sweet. The priest, a cleric of the informal persuasion, spoke directly to the couple and the public, by turns, and peppered his homily with enough jokes to keep the mood both light and serious. His theme: sex outside of marriage is fornication, in someone else’s marriage is adultery, and in a partnership sanctified by the Church is Love, the obligatory foundation of every happy

family. Raise your kids in the Church, remember that you have married each other, not the families of your in-laws. This last statement was of course a blatant lie; in the village culture one’s in-laws are a constant presence, relied on for support, for advice—solicited or not—moral guidance, discipline … you name it. Grandparents dote; moms work, and grandmothers raise the kids.

The wedding service lasted about a half hour; the mass another fifteen minutes. Rings and vows were exchanged, rosaries draped over the bride and groom, veil lifted, and a chaste kiss delivered to tentative applause. We all stood, sat, kneeled (some of us), responsed, and sang in a variety of keys and rhythms the handful of hymns that are part of the local rite. Two guitars and a bandurria, in the choir loft the size of two card tables, accompanied. We all shook hands fraternally, as directed, and filed out into the plaza, where the band had broken into marching rhythms. When Rigoberto and Jéssica emerged, we showered them with rice, which was the highlight of the whole affair for the five- and six-year-olds. The reception was a kilometer up the main street, in a house two doors beyond Claudia Taboada’s, just north of the ford by the Juquila chapel.


To our untutored eyes, there seems to be some distance between the two in-law families that goes beyond any minor difference in class. Jéssica’s folks played an active role in the wedding service; Rigoberto’s did not. On the march to the reception,
Jéssica’s parents bracketed the newlyweds at the head of the procession;

Rigoberto’s folks were back in the crowd with the other flat-heeled women and me. Linda drove up in the car a little later. At the reception, Jéssica’s family were seated in front, near the gift table; Rigoberto’s were dispersed, and Lauro scurried about helping to set up extra chairs and the apparatus that holds the wedding cakes.

A couple of months earlier:

Laura and Moshé’s wedding followed the same general outline, but the details were very different. Weeks before the wedding Laura and Moshé made an appointment to come up to our house to invite us personally. Their invitation was a 2016-17 calendar, printed with their names and the wedding date highlighted. We were cued by friends that the in-person invitation meant that we would be asked to be padrinos of the wedding, meaning to play some minor role in the ceremonies, and to make a financial contribution to help cover the event’s expenses. When Moshé and Laura got out of the car at our house they were formally dressed and cute as the dickens. We sat on the front terrace, with jamaica (hibiscus water) and nibbles, and they laid out for us the local customs.

Weddings are Big Deals. Bankrupting the family sort of Big Deals. The expectation— which they said they were committed to resisting—is to do everything first class and according to protocol. Social pressure is intense.

“If the wedding dress doesn’t cost at least X, then people say that he doesn’t love you,” Laura informed us. “The shoes, too. They have to be of a certain sort, certain brands, and if they are not, that means that the groom and his family don’t value you. And the ring . . .”

“We’re not going to go overboard like that,” Moshé was quick to make clear, “but we have to do something nice, or people will say that we have shamed our families.”

“And the reception,” Laura said, “you have to invite everybody.”

Moshé jumped in. “Big families. Everybody’s friends. You might have 70 at the ceremony, but the reception is going to be three or four hundred. Whether you invite them or not, they are going to come.”

I played Devil’s advocate: “And you have to do it that way? Surely there are some other models? Linda and I had a surprise wedding, inviting people to a barbecue in the back yard and not telling them it was a wedding. No fuss, no gifts, no hooplah. Our daughter Abby’s wedding banquet was potluck, with everyone bringing a dish. Could you do something like that?”

Moshé and Laura looked at us like we’d just come from Mars.

“No,” said Moshé. “No. We can be different up to a point, but still . . .  You know that the custom is that the families don’t pay for the wedding. The bride and groom are expected to cover the costs themselves. Borrow the money, start the marriage with a debt, and repay it as best they can.”

No, we didn’t know.

Then he laid it all out. How the wedding would be in the synagogue in Pueblo Nuevo, with the reception at a modest events facility in Viguera. How many people they would invite. How many they expected to come to the reception. How they had aimed at the low-respectable end of the wedding industry for the dress, the ring, the reception venue, and the menu. How his mom was sewing the wedding favors herself. Moshé asked if we had any suggestions for them, meaning realistic ones. We didn’t. He estimated, in precise peso amounts, what a mid-respectable wedding would cost, and what they calculated for theirs. He didn’t ask if we wanted to be padrinos by helping defray the costs, but the subtext of his exposition was clear.

Linda and I gave each other the surreptitious “we’re agreed” sign, and told the Laura and Moshé that we would indeed help, and that we would get back to them with details.


Thus endeth part one of “Two Weddings.”



David and Linda, padrinos.